We gathered in a room off the library, an intimate space with comfy chairs and movable tables. Sixteen of us altogether: faculty members from the hard sciences and from the humanities, some grad students, a librarian, a staff member, and four of my undergraduate students whom I had invited to be part of the discussion. Two of the women brought small children, who went outside to play on the quad while we talked. We brought food of course, mostly in casserole dishes and plastic containers. I never have time to make anything for potlucks (and I knew my students would not have time either) but I did my usual run to the Chinese take-out place for broccoli with garlic sauce.
PlantsWoman told her story, how she gave up some of her emotional and spiritual connection to plants during the academic process of getting a science degree, and how she went back years later, after many peer-reviewed publications, after tenure, after acceptance by the academy, she went back to claim what she had given up – and began again to learn plants not with just her mind but with her heart and spirit and body. She stayed a scientist, she never gave up her love of botany, but she began to reclaim the idea she could be a poet as well. And she took back the parts of her native heritage she had given up to be accepted by the academy. We talked about how narrow the academy can be, especially a male-dominated institution like science, and how difficult it can be for someone who is other to enter that space.
So often diversity efforts focus on helping our incoming students to change to fit the field of science. We talked about ways that science might change to be more accepting of different ideas and cultures and ways of thinking. And how that sort of diversity would benefit science. One at a time, people around the table began to speak up, adding their voice, and together we talked about ways to make room, make space, for students who are from different backgrounds.
We did not come up with any vision statement or bold proclamation, no rules to be written down in white and black. We simply talked -- sharing ideas, forming relationships with each other. I have faith in this process, the way that change can begin when we connect with other people, talking about what we think is important, telling our stories. These kind of meetings, potlucks usually, in someone’s home or a public space, help shape who I am and what I do with my students. Parts of me get shifted and turned by these conversations, helping me to figure out how I can change the institution that I have – albeit reluctantly – become part of.